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The Commission on College Basketball is Wrong: Schools Should Pay Players

Without paying the players, a black market will always exist

UCLA v Arizona Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

On Wednesday, the Commission on College Basketball released their 60 page report on changes to college basketball. The report skirts around the edge and is wrong. College basketball players should be paid because they make millions of dollars for other people. When someone creates a gigantic amount of money, they should be compensated commensurate with that value.

The Commission was chaired by Condi Rice. The former Secretary of State, former College Football Playoff committee member, and current Provost at Stanford was well suited to lead the group. But their suggestions are minor. They include eliminating the one-and-done rule (would require an NBA change), allowing players access to agents earlier and providing undrafted players with the ability to return to school.

The Commission writes that, “the goal should not be to turn college basketball into another professional league.” That’s already happened. The NCAA receives over $1 billion a year in NCAA Tournament television revenue. Every top 20 paid college basketball coach makes at least $2.7 million a year. The NCAA and colleges decided to take millions of dollars. Nobody told these folks they had to take the money.

The players should be paid because they deserve money for making their schools rich and their coaches millionaires. Quincy Acy and I both didn’t pay tuition to attend Baylor. Acy was a giant reason the school millions of dollars in NCAA Tournament revenue, and he helped the program make two Elite Eights. He set the foundation for future success too. He was worth way more money to Baylor than me. A top executive or a great salesman is worth more than someone else in a company. But in college athletics, we don’t pay the players. Instead, these programs ramp up facilities and coaching salaries explode. Almost every field in America, and in our economy, is predicated on someone being able to get their market value. But the NCAA precludes payment from the universities.

Suggested alternatives wouldn’t solve the problem. The Commission punted on the Olympic model or likeness question because they were concerned that opening the door to those payment would make amateurism impossible because of a 2015 Court of Appeals decision. The Olympic Model would allow players to profit off their likeness. The problem with that suggestion is that the big money comes from television deals. Not letting the players get access to money from television cuts off a giant revenue stream.

My suggestion has been that college basketball should have a pool of basketball related revenue and give a percentage to the players. That model would follow professional leagues. Players would then receive a cut of the money. Instead of schools building new apartment complexes or coaching salaries going up every few years, the players would have money.

We should be honest about what college basketball and college football are in the power five/six leagues. They’re giant businesses. The G League will never have the attachment or value that Ohio State or USC have. But those schools make millions because they land the best players every year. Those players deserve a cut of that revenue.

Most of the arguments in opposition to paying the players don’t make much sense. Title IX comes up, but this article gives a pretty good primer on why that’s wrong (differences in revenue in the college basketball context found to not be a problem in salary of men’s and women’s college basketball coaches by the 9th Circuit in 1994), and it’s certainly debatable. I’m also advocating that the players ought to be paid. Saying there’s an impediment to doing that does not change whether paying folks that generate billions in revenue is the right thing to do.

Some folks also suggest that schools would lose their place as educational institutions if we paid the players. That’s ludicrous. First, every Big 12 men’s basketball coach is made a multi-millionaire by coaching college basketball. We long ago stopped having teams based on education. Second, paying the players doesn’t change that the university still is a place where most students are working toward a degree. Whether Acy had left Baylor with several hundred thousand dollars wouldn’t have changed my life or my degree.

Yes, scholarships and housing and the benefits of being a student athlete aren’t small things. But the compensation is not equal to the value the players provide. The balance is out of whack. If college basketball didn’t have television contracts or major interest, then the players wouldn’t deserve to get paid.

We should all be honest in what we argue. The players deserve to be paid because they make their schools and coaches very wealthy. They deserve a cut of that giant amount of money. I’m not concerned with eliminating agent payments or anything else. And I wouldn’t judge the success of the Olympic Model or amateurism based on that.

I judge the system based on what I think is fair. The players are a big piece in making a few people rich. They deserve a salary.